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Senate helps landowners; City manager to ask governor for a veto

State legislation that will drastically change the way The Dalles handles lot partitions is now two steps away from becoming law.

On Thursday, the Oregon Senate approved the measure that was sponsored by Rep. John Huffman, R-The Dalles, and supported by Sen. Ted Ferrioli, R-John Day.

House Bill 3479 passed by a 27-2 margin with one senator not present.

Nolan Young, city manager, said Thursday that he intends to ask Gov. John Kitzhaber to veto the legislation if it crosses his desk.

Young contends the measure should be rejected because it deprives the city of the growth management tools employed in most every jurisdiction in the state.

He and Gene Parker, city attorney, argue that the difference between The Dalles and other Oregon cities is that local residents are asked to prepay for infrastructure upgrades instead of having fees levied at the time of construction.

Dave Hunnicutt, executive director of Oregonians in Action, a property rights watchdog group, authored the bill. He said there is little likelihood the governor will reject the measure.

He said it is “standard operating procedure” for the governor to let the legislature know about any concerns he has with legislation moving through the system and Kitzhaber has been silent on House Bill 3479.

He said the measure captured bipartisan support because it restored “common sense” to the city’s planning processes.

“I think it is clear to everyone in Salem that the way The Dalles does business is really out of character for good public policy,” he said.

“I don’t understand why their opposition is so strenuous other than that they don’t like to be told what to do by the legislature. But when the public was asking them to make changes, they should have thought about that.”

He said even Sen. Ginny Burdick, D-Southwest Portland, supported the intent of the legislation, although she did not vote for it out of the belief that the problem should, rightfully, have been addressed at the local level.

Ferrioli and Huffman join Hunnicutt in the belief that state intervention was necessary because The Dalles had not been able to come up with a workable solution to the impasse with landowners for more than five years.

“With votes this strong in both the House and Senate, you can see that people are sympathetic to the fact that The Dalles is the only city in the state doing things this way and it is time to give landowners some relief,” said Huffman.

Hunnicutt said: “It’s unfortunate that it had to happen like this but when people have given the city every opportunity to do the right thing and they haven’t done it, the legislature is sort of the last place they have to go to make things right.”

Because HB 3479 originated in the House, Huffman said his peers now have to concur with a Senate amendment that applies the new rules only to The Dalles.

If that happens with another affirmative vote, the bill moves to Kitzhaber for a signature that will immediately enact the guidelines.

“I have been approached by so many people – even at the grocery store – who have thanked me for taking on this issue,” he said.

“It is apparent that many community members of The Dalles also agree that it is time to change some things.”

HB 3479 prohibits city officials from charging more than $5,000 for a minor lot partition and that money does not have to be paid until the landowner seeks a development permit.

In addition, property holders cannot be required to sign a “non-remonstrance agreement” that removes their ability to oppose formation of a Local Improvement District.

Under an LID, the city can assess properties in a specific area to cover the cost of infrastructure upgrades.

The prior charge to carve out a new lot on large properties at the eastern edge of town angered landowners who were asked to prepay from $50,000 to more than $150,000 for future infrastructure improvements.

Landowners asked Huffman for assistance after being unable to persuade city officials to lower the amount of the fee, which is $351 per linear foot of street frontage.

In February, the council did agree to drop the requirement that a landowner pay the fee at the time of a property sale or after a 10-year period of time had passed.

That plan was tabled after the legislature began to move on HB 3479, which was approved by a 46-10 vote in the House on May 2.

Young plans to use the same arguments in a bid to gain Kitzhaber’s veto that he laid out in a June 5 letter to Senate President Peter Courtney, D-Salem.

“We (staff) believe we are following the policy of the (city) council in protecting a local solution,” he said in a Thursday telephone interview.

His letter states: “HB 3479 has gone beyond the original intent of lowering the improvement costs to residential petitioners. Instead it fosters a system where the city is handcuffed from assigning any responsibility to developers for local improvements.”

Young argues that LIDs have not offered a predictable or reliable means to finance local improvements.

Therefore, he said the city “experimented with a somewhat unique approach” for upgrading infrastructure to accomodate population growth and increased traffic.

He said the contested land-use ordinance had been amended so the assessment for lot partitions applied only to the frontage of the new lot being created and not the entire property.

He said that would have lowered costs significantly for property owners, who had not proven the solution was unworkable before going to the legislature.

He said city staff had proposed an amendment to the bill that would have clarified the language to avoid confusion and the need for future legislation or legal action.

But state officials gave the alternative bill no consideration.

In addition, he said staff made several unsuccessful attempts to alert lawmakers to the shortcomings of HB 3479 and its various iterations.

“However, our concerns were largely disregarded and the resulting legislation was a more restrictive, if not punitive, bill aimed exclusively at The Dalles,” wrote Young.

He said while the city’s use of prepayment for improvements and non-remonstrance agreements to manage development might not have been effective, they were not abusive.

And officials were proactively seeking to reform policies governing the complex issue even before the legislation was introduced.

For those reasons, he said there were no grounds to deprive The Dalles of the growth management instruments available to other cities.

Hunnicutt said the primary problem that officials in The Dalles need to deal with is the high costs being levied on landowners for small developments. He said a person creating one lot should not be charged as if he or she was constructing a 20-lot subdivision.

“People shouldn’t have to borrow on their life savings to pay the city for infrastructure improvements that might never be made,” he said.

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